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Practical tourist information in Iceland

Safety

Iceland is blessed with a relatively low crime rate and very few instances of violent crime. A majority of crime perpetrated in Iceland deals with personal property from residences and cars parked in public locations. The average amount of pick-pocketing has increased over the last few years with perpetrators looking for easy targets, including visitors from outside the country and outside Europe. Tourists are warned to be careful, especially around popular tourist attractions in Reykjavik. Do not put anything of value on the ground or leave it in an unattended parked car.

 

Hakarl is a tradtional delicacy in Iceland. It is actually a shark and is traditionally served with spirits called brennivin

Tips for Dining Out

Fish and Lamb. Fish and lamb are the two most popular items to see on the menu. As Iceland has banned sheep imports, the stock of lamb equals that as the Vikings brought over with them. Because of this, the meat is often described as being on the gamey side. And, because a majority of Iceland’s exports are fish, individuals can get some of the freshest fish in Icelandic restaurants. The most popular types of fish are haddock, cod, monkfish, catfish, trout, halibut, salmon, and arctic char.

 

Tipping. Because VAT and service is included in all prices throughout Iceland, tipping is not something that is required. However, if a patron at a restaurant enjoyed their services, the server will not be offended if they are left a tip at the end of the meal.

 

Wine and Spirits. Consumption of wine and spirits in Iceland is quote costly as they are heavily taxed. As well, restaurants do not sell wine by the bottle, so patrons will have to pay by the glass, which can get quite pricy after a few drinks.

 

Know what Hakarl is. Many tourists make the mistake of trying Hakarl without exactly knowing what it is. Hakarl, which means “shark” in Icelandic, is a traditional delicacy that is cured for several weeks before serving. It is definitely something of an acquired taste as it tastes rather pungent and smells of ammonia. However, it is associated with strength and hardiness. Most people pair it with a local schnapps known as brennivin, which helps with the taste.

 

Electricity Outlets

Iceland uses 220 volt, 50Hz electricity. The country has its own special plug design. Standard European two-prong plugs fit, but three-prong (or grounded) plugs from other countries will not fit. Plug adapters can be found in just about any supermarket.

 

For Americans coming in for a visit to Iceland with 110 volts, 60Hz electrical appliances (including laptops, phone chargers, or even a blow dryer), they will need to purchase a voltage adapter, not a plug adapter. Without a voltage adapter, the higher voltage in Iceland will destroy or cause damage to electrical appliances. Though not found in every store, voltage adapters can be purchased at airports or specialty shops dedicated to tourists in the bigger cities.

 

Currency

The primary form of currency in Iceland is the Icelandic krona (plural is kronur). It is subdivided into 100 aurar (one eyrir). The word “krona,” which means “crown,” is related to a number of the other Nordic currencies, including the Norwegian krone, Swedish krona, and Danish krone.

 

Though a European country, Iceland does not belong to the European Union, and therefore does not use the European Union currency – the Euro. However, after the 2008-2009 financial crisis in Iceland, there were major discussions regarding membership to the European Union and become part of the Eurozone. Application to join the European Union was passed on July 16, 2009 and formal negotiations started July 27, 2010. The goal is to have everything finished by 2012, allowing Iceland to join the European Union, and therefore the Eurozone, by 2013-2014. If/when that time occurs, Iceland will favorably drop the krona for the Euro.

 

Having a car in Iceland makes it easy and flexible to tour the country the way you want.

Modes of Transportation

Due to the diverse geography in Iceland, there are a number of different options when it comes to modes of transportation. Keep in mind that each city and town in Iceland also offers their own various forms of public transportation options for easy access to major tourist destinations in that location.

 

Plane. Iceland can easily be reached via the country’s primary international airport, Keflavik International Airport (KEF). It is located in southwestern Iceland and approximately 40 kilometers from the capital city of Reykjavik. Because Iceland is not part of the European Union, passengers ariving from outside Iceland, where the final destination is Iceland, will have to go back through custom controls at port of entry, no matter their location of origin. Iceland’s airports are home to two national airlines – Icelandair and Iceland Express. It is considered quite expensive to fly to Iceland so visitors should look for deals. The other primary airport in Iceland is the Reykjavik Airport (RKV). It is a domestic airport that will take visitors to other locations throughout Iceland.

 

Car. Driving around Iceland in a car provides individuals with the most flexibility when touring the country. There are a number of car rental companies throughout the country. While the rental prices can be quite steep, it is a beneficial financial endeavor as it provides the easiest opportunity to visit all the popular locations in the country. By having a rental car, individuals are able to travel at their own leisure and not be beholden to public transportation schedules and daily flight schedules. The only thing that individuals need to keep in mind is that while major roads, including the highway are paved, smaller roads tend to be either dirt or gravel.

 

Bus. The primary bus station to catch a bus to get somewhere in Iceland is in Reykjavik. There are a number of scheduled coach bus companies, including SBK, Sterna, Trex, and Reykjavik Excursions. It can be quite costly to take a long distance bus in Iceland, so always compare it to the cost of flying to the destination. As well, most routes are only serviced once a day. Most towns and cities also have their own inter-city bus lines. Most buses stop running around 11:00 PM, with some stopping as early as 6:00 PM.

 

Useful Phone Numbers

To call abroad while visiting Iceland, tourists need to dial 00 + country code + phone number.

 

The country code for calling Iceland is +354.

 

If traveling around Iceland from outside the country, it is always a good idea to carry around the phone number of the local embassy or consulate in case of an emergency situation.

 

Emergency phone numbers:

 

Emergency services – 112 (Reaches police and fire)

 

Other Relevant Tips

  • While whale meat is sold throughout Iceland, it is illegal for American tourists to import the meat back to the United States according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Also keep in mind that because of its active whaling industry, if individuals opt to assert their anti-whaling position, they need to expect to be countered by a number of pro-whaling positions.
  • Be wary if discussing the global economic crisis in Iceland. It is an extremely emotive issue as Iceland suffered gravely during the banking crisis.
  • The value of the krona collapsed dramatically during the economic crisis in 2008. As of November of 2011, one Euro equaled 160 Icelandic kronar. Because of this, it is best to exchange money into krona in Iceland (as it is also quite difficult to get them anywhere else in the world).
  • One of the most popular souvenirs while in Iceland is Icelandic wool products. However, many less-than-honest retailers will try to sell unsuspecting tourists products that they say are made from Icelandic wool but really not. If looking to purchase Icelandic wool products, go to a specialized retailer.
  • Iceland has some of the cleanest water in the world, so it is okay to drink from the tap.
  • Shopping hours in Iceland run generally between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM on weekdays and until 4:00 PM on Saturdays. Some stores choose to remain closed on Sundays. However, the time can change between towns.
  • A majority of the inhabitants live around the coastal areas, and this will be where tourists find a majority of restaurants and bars in the country.
  • Western Europeans and those who hold citizenship in the United States, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, and a few other countries do not require visas to visit Iceland and can stay up to three months. It is easy to extend one’s visa by visiting a local police station.